If you’re working in an enterprise data center, there’s a good chance you’re already using flash storage. That’s especially the case if you’re dealing with high-definition video, mobile computing and the type of applications that need the performance that only flash storage delivers. Users expect their applications to respond immediately, and flash storage helps deliver this level of performance. In fact, moving to flash storage in the data center offers several advantages, such as the following:
- Less power consumption—some vendors claim 600x better power efficiency than HDDs
- Less heat production than traditional spinning drives
- Less space required
- Lower latency—some vendors claim a 40x reduction compared with HDDs
- Fast return on investment
Don’t Forget About Your Network
Although you may have invested in flash storage for all the anticipated benefits, you may not be getting everything that you expected from your investment. For instance, increased traffic between storage and servers can quickly oversubscribe your existing network links. In some cases, the transition to flash pushes the data-access bottleneck away from the storage devices and toward the network. This situation can lead to longer ROI cycles for your flash storage investments or can slow your flash implementation altogether. Understanding your performance bottlenecks and potential challenges becomes critical.
Better performance/throughput and lower latency are two major benefits you can expect from flash. But without a balanced infrastructure of compute, storage and networking elements, you may be minimizing the flash technology’s potential. And with aggressive deployment of flash across the industry to increase performance, this problem will only get worse for many companies.
NVMe Can Make Your Life Much Easier
So what options do you have? You may have considered buying the latest flash drive, an improved all-flash array (AFA) or a network hardware solution, but at this point, you could be just guessing which solution will best overcome your challenge.
Or you may want to start with Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe), a storage protocol built explicitly for flash. NVMe is designed to improve data- and latency-sensitive applications. Although NVMe typically serves in direct server-attached storage today, there’s a growing need to extend this low-latency protocol over storage fabrics where shared storage solutions can benefit. In addition, NVMe promises to increase scaling to as many as 1,000 shared storage devices.
If you think that technology sounds promising, the news gets even better: a new industry standard, NVMe over Fabrics, was announced in June this year. It allows NVMe commands to travel natively across an existing network. That means you can now extend NVMe over large storage fabrics. Owing to the nature of the protocol, it can run across a variety of fabrics, including Fibre Channel and Ethernet with NVMe over Fibre Channel (FC-NVMe). NVMe allows you to use your existing network architecture by standardizing on a common abstraction layer that can operate over multiple network fabric types.
How Does NVMe over Fabrics Work?
If you need to perform ultrafast data transfers across large-scale networks for business-critical applications (and, really, who doesn’t these days?), you can turn to NVMe over Fabrics. It dramatically reduces latency and eliminates the need for translation by directly transferring NVMe commands and structures from end to end. A primary goal of the protocol is to avoid adding more than 10 microseconds of latency between the host and the target storage device. NVMe over Fibre Channel (FC-NVMe) works with flash storage to ensure you get the performance and low latency that you originally wanted, but it also provides the additional reliability and performance of a Fibre Channel network.
In this way, running NVMe natively across a Fibre Channel network extends the benefits of flash storage across your network and maintains flash simplicity and efficiency while eliminating the need for translation. That means you can enjoy higher application performance, more data storage, better analytics and more personalization of information. For many, NVMe over Fabrics represents a high-performance solution with low latency. A primary advantage in moving to NVMe over Fabrics is adding sustainable scale without affecting performance.
By delivering low latency for all-flash arrays (AFAs), NVMe over Fabrics is emerging as a promising solution for large-scale enterprises and SAN infrastructure. Even if you’re not ready to move to NVMe today, you still might want to prepare with Gen6 Fibre Channel solutions as you move toward NVMe over time. Initial tests with NVMe over Fibre Channel and Gen6 HBAs have shown 55 percent lower latency compared with SCSI drives and 25 percent more performance versus Ethernet solutions, according to Broadcom.
NVMe and Fibre Channel Prepare You for the Future
The combination of NVMe and Fibre Channel allows you to extend the benefits of flash in latency and performance at the highest Fibre Channel speeds. And, by investing in hardware that supports NVMe today, you can ensure your network and storage are optimized for whatever’s coming next. As a result, you can support enterprise data centers, mobile computing, high-performance computing, relational databases and other uses of the technology.
As applications continue to advance and virtualization permeates the data center, flash storage will likely grow right along with them. Understanding how much bandwidth response your applications require—and what application response-time growth you foresee—is critical for your planning. This information can also guide you in a decision about NVMe or NVMe over Fabrics today.
Rethinking your current data center environment to accommodate flash and the applications that require it will most likely bring you to a discussion about NVMe and NVMe over Fabrics. Understanding how communication occurs among storage, compute and network resources will greatly affect your success. With the right platform in place, you can implement the best solution for your business, using NVMe as the next evolutionary step for your storage network.
About the Author
As Senior Vice President of Storage Networking, Jack Rondoni leads the strategy and execution of Brocade’s storage networking business. Jack is responsible for driving innovation in the company’s largest business, leading new-product development, driving strategic storage initiatives and enabling advanced storage technologies such as solid-state storage and software-defined storage. He joined Brocade in 2006, bringing over 20 years of experience in storage, networking and technology.